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What a glorious time it must be to be a little kid who loves video games.

There’s
no way to say this without sounding like an old man, but when I was a
kid (the ’80s), finding an adult to play “Lady Bug” or “Zaxxon” on my
ColecoVision was impossible. My dad and mom, who came of age in the
’50s and ’60s, were about as successful wielding Coleco’s 12-button
controller as they would have been had they picked up a scalpel and
tried to remove my appendix. And they displayed a corresponding amount
of zeal. Rather than game with mom or dad, I played with my friends or, if they weren’t around, ritually humiliated my sister,
four years my junior. After all, there was little point in enduring the
same kinds of pastings at the hands of my older cousins.

Recently,
I had the opportunity to prove to my sister that I got our family’s
“good at video games” genes by mercilessly schooling my 8-year-old
nephew, Keondre, at “New Super Mario Bros.” While the lopsided
beatdowns I administered via the DS’ tiny plastic stylus were of little
educational value to Keondre or me, I did dash off a quick note to
Nintendo to let them know they might consider making the upcoming DSi’s
touchscreen resistant to children’s tears.

No, I’m kidding. Of course I let the kid win a few. And while I did so,
I was reminded once again how great the youngest generation of
gamers has it.

Kids born after 2000 most likely have at least one parent, aunt or
uncle bitten by the video game bug during the Nintendo Entertainment
System, Super Nintendo or PlayStation era of game consoles. Even if,
like me, you took a hiatus from gaming in your mid-20s, there’s not a
huge leap from “Resident Evil” and “Warcraft 2” in the mid-’90s to
“Killzone 2” and “Halo Wars” today. Once you get a feel for the modern
dual-analog-stick controller, you’re set. I’m as comfortable running and jumping in “Lego Star Wars” as I am making a dash for the sniper rifle in “Halo 3.”

But even if you never quite figure it out, there are plenty of other
options, thanks to the Wii, as well as family-friendly franchises like
“Rock Band,” “Guitar Hero” and “Scene It.” My mother-in-law has a Wii
in her living room, while my mom, just a few years from retirement,
sang along in the background while I handled guitar and Keondre belted
out the words to Nirvana’s “In Bloom” during a “Rock Band” session.
(Note: The downside of exposing a young kid to a music game like “Rock
Band” is that he only wants to sing the same song over and over again,
but you’ve gotta take the bad with the good.)

Some of my favorite childhood memories come from moments when older
family members set aside their air of authority and cavorted with us
kids. While my dad, a small-town guy born in 1939, never demonstrated
an affinity for games or electronic gadgets, I’ll never forget his
devious hustling as a real-estate tycoon in Monopoly. As the first generations to grow up with gaming age, we’ll continue to be capable digital playmates for our children, nieces and nephews, even if it means feeling a touch old when we introduce them to “Asteroids,” “Combat” and other games of our youth.

Attitudes shift gradually, but kids like Keondre, his younger brother,
Tamarion, and the nephews on my wife’s side, Trenton and Logan, are
growing up in a world where the ranks of gamer and non-gamer are no
longer demarcated by age, income or emotional maturity. While the day
that a family reunion begets a LAN party rather than a golf outing or a
pickup basketball game may never arrive, it’s a little less far-fetched
than it was when I was warding off Soviet ICBMs in “War Games.”